The IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) is the educational cornerstone for every child with a disability’s or learning disability. It is a legally binding document designed to meet the child’s unique educational needs in the public school system. A typical IEP will include your child’s classification (depending on the child’s needs there are different classifications and the child must fit into one of these categories to qualify for services), placement, services, therapies (such as speech, occupational and physical), academic and behavioral goals, a behavior plan if needed, percentage of time in regular education, special accommodations, etc. The IEP is planned at an IEP meeting and at that meeting the parents are a key element.
As a parent, IEP meetings can appear to be intimidating. Preparing yourself before the meeting will give you the confidence to become an active member of the team and will greatly improve your chances of getting the best services for your child.
Know the purpose of the meeting and who will be there ahead of time so you know what to expect. Ask for a draft of the IEP so that you can review it. If your child is already in school, also ask for your child’s CUME (cumulative file) folder. This should include copies of all evaluations, records, correspondence and any other documents that the school has about your child.
Get to know your child and his disability
An IEP will be based on the child’s present levels and will show where the child is at as evaluated by the school. But you should not rely on the professionals at school to tell you what they believe is good for your child. You must find out for yourself. This means observing your child, researching about where he should be developmentally, socially and physically for his age and learning about his disability. Knowing about your child’s abilities, disabilities and preferences will pinpoint the best ways for him to learn, will uncover the evidence based practices that work best for those disabilities and will provide you and his teachers with tools to use his strengths and preferences to drive his motivation to learn and conquer the challenges he faces.
Define what your child needs and why
Define your child’s areas of need based on the information you have gathered, specify how these relate to your child’s disability and how they affect your child’s progress in the general education curriculum. Based on these needs, prepare a list of educationally relevant goals and objectives. Good goals must be SMART (specific, measurable, use action words, be realistic and relevant and be time limited). The goals and objectives should also be related to the purpose of IDEA 2004; to prepare your child for further education, employment and independent living.
Know the law
The school has to provide the most appropriate education for your child taking into account his special needs, with no restrictions of budget, staff or school policies. Know your rights as a parent and IEP team member. Review your rights as the parent of an exceptional child.
Connect with other parents
Since I started on this road I have read many books, attended numerous conferences, consulted numerous specialists and researched incessantly on the Internet. The most valuable information, however, has come from other parents. Parents that have been through the same things will give you advice on everything from what has worked best for their children, to what schools and programs are better in your area. You can usually find support groups in your area or even join a group online.
Don’t Go Alone
Find someone that can go with you to the meeting; a person that is not the other parent. This person can help take notes and advocate for your child. When you are emotionally involved it is sometimes hard to stay objective and to pay attention to everything. Make sure you contact the school prior to the IEP meeting and let them know who will be attending with you.
Creative commons-licensed photo provided by Corey Leopold.
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